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Two Secrets To Winning At Poker

by Steve Zolotow |  Published: Mar 14, 2018

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I have always hated articles and books that begin with a title hinting that there are secrets that will make you a huge winner, such as The Secret to Beating the Stock Market or The Secret to Winning Sports Betting. There are no secrets, and, if there were, they would be so lucrative that no one would give them away for the price of a magazine or a book. So, I offer the disclaimer that the two secrets I’m about to reveal aren’t very secret. In fact, practically everyone knows them, but relatively few people consistently apply them.

Secret One: Always play your best game. Don’t go on tilt. Don’t play when you’re tired or drunk. Don’t play when you’re emotionally upset. If you’ve just been dumped by the woman you love, it is probably not a good time to play poker. The late Chip Reese, one of the most successful cash game players of all time, was fond of saying that there were a lot of players who could play about as well as he could when they were winning, but there was no one who could play as well when he was losing. Remember he was referring to the best players in the world. If their games slipped when they were losing, imagine how tough it is for ordinary players to keep their composure when things go wrong.

If I had a secret for avoiding tilt, that would be really worth a lot. I don’t have one. Each player may have a different cause or causes. Some people tilt when losing. Others tilt when they’re way ahead and slip back to being less of a winner. Still others tilt when they lose a big pot, especially if they were extremely unlucky and/or their opponent is someone they hate losing to. Some of us tilt out of boredom. We haven’t had a playable hand or an exciting pot in hours, and we decide to become reckless. Try to learn the situations that put you on tilt. Then work on controlling your emotions in these spots. Learn how your behavior changes as you become tilted. Force yourself to take a break or even quit for the day when you find yourself making plays you know are wrong and which you wouldn’t make under ordinary conditions. Even if you can’t avoid tilt, you can at least avoid playing when you’re tilted.

Secret Two: Let me introduce the second secret, by recounting an old story about Johnny Crawford, a great gambler and games player, from an earlier era. He was one of the strongest bridge players of his time. (In money bridge each player has a partner and two opponents. Periodically they rotate, so your new partner is one of your former opponents.) Someone once asked him what he would do with a certain hand. He asked, “Who is my partner?” His questioner said, “Who cares, say it’s another Johnny Crawford.” He asked, “Then who are my opponents?” He was told, “Two more Johnny Crawfords.” He instantly responded, “I wouldn’t play in that game, it’s too tough!”

Based on that can you figure out secret two? It is simply not to play in games that are too tough. You should always try to improve your poker skills. Read, study, watch videos, and watch great players whenever you can. (As an aside, all serious poker players should subscribe to PokerGo, and watch the best players in action. They just had a week of final tables from the Aria high roller tournament. There is no better way to improve than watching great players at work, while listening to very knowledgeable commentary.) While you are improving and moving up in stakes, you must also make sure you find games you can beat. Your objective should be to spend your poker playing time against opponents who are weaker than you are. If you can’t find those games, then you need to do a lot more studying and a lot less playing.

That’s it. The not-so-secret way to win at poker is to find opponents you can beat and beat them by playing your best game. If you are going through a period of mediocre to poor results, ask yourself if these are opponents you should beat. If so, then ask if you are playing your best game. If the honest answer to both is yes, then hang in there. Things will turn around. ♠

Steve ZolotowSteve ‘Zee’ Zolotow, aka The Bald Eagle, is a successful gamesplayer. He has been a full-time gambler for over 35 years. With two WSOP bracelets and few million in tournament cashes, he is easing into retirement. He currently devotes most of his time to poker. He can be found at some major tournaments and playing in cash games in Vegas. When escaping from poker, he hangs out in his bars on Avenue A in New York City -The Library near Houston and Doc Holliday’s on 9th St. are his favorites.